An Overview of What’s New in GNOME 42 • The Registry

After the project revamped its version numbering, GNOME 42 consolidates the ongoing modernization effort. Keep in mind that we are describing the release candidate, so some details may change before release.

The Reg looked at GNOME 40 about a year ago. It was a major release, and one of the big changes was new human interface guidelines. This continued in GNOME 41 and the process is not yet complete.

The big news is Gtk4, the underlying programming toolkit used to implement GNOME and all GNOME applications. Gtk4 includes a new library called libadwaita, which governs the appearance of GNOME applications. You may remember the name “Adwaita” from what was the default theme in earlier versions of GNOME. The word means “the only one” in Sanskrit and, in part, libadwaita is the result of a long-standing discussion on the topic in the Gtk ecosystem.

One of the triggers was when the developer of a popular icon theme took a stand declaration that it does not provide icons for third-party apps, as it respects their own branding.

This led to a request from a group of GNOME developers asking downstream integrators to Stop thematization of their applications.

Earlier versions of GNOME didn’t really have system-wide theme support. They only had one theme.

In GTK4, libadwaita turned this into a platform-wide look. The new library replaces the old one libhandy library.

Below, GNOME themes are CSS style sheets, and libadwaita built in an official, which means all apps that use it should look the same. GNOME 42 continues the process of moving all of its component applications to Gtk4.

The main GNOME shell has been changed rather than overhauled. Its rounded corners have disappeared, the indicators on the screen are smallerand the thumbnails disappeared from the workspace switcher.

One of the most visible GNOME applications is the Settings app, which under the hood is called gnome-control-center.

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Many applets in Settings have received an overhaul in this release, including To display and Apps. Under Share, the screen sharing option for remote support now uses RDP, not VNC. There is a new pane for the GNOME Boxes desktop hypervisor. Under “Users”, the fingerprint recognition option is back.

the Files app got a pretty major overhaul, with a new path bar that contains a menu button. Search now includes the ability to search by creation date, and the filename renaming popup is larger and clearer. The Undo and Redo options have been moved to the main program menu.

The new look extends to many of GNOME’s built-in applications, including Baobab Disk Usage Analyzer, Calculator, Clock Application, Character Map, Fonts Tool, Contacts Application , the to-do list manager and the GNOME Visitor.

The GNOME software tool has undergone significant changes. From version 42, it prioritizes exact matches in the search function and will automatically cancel in-progress software downloads if your laptop is running low on power. It can also detect whether your network connection is metered or not, and it will only download updates if you switch to an unlimited connection. As GNOME software supports Flatpaks, and they can be large, this is useful. App descriptions can now contain tags and software will highlight app recommendations for GNOME to place.

A new Appearance shutter replaces context – although it can still change the wallpaper. It now includes support for the new global dark mode, and all built-in wallpaper images have light/dark versions. Switching between light and dark modes fades. Note, however, that the new dark mode uses Gtk4, so it won’t work with Gtk3 apps.

GNOME 42 includes new and replacement applications, such as the new Console which replaces the old GNOME terminal. New Text editor replaces the venerable GEdit. Although both aim to be simpler and easier to use than their predecessors, they still include useful new features; so, for example, the text editor has autosave and the file open popup includes a search function.

the Screenshot the app has improved. A simple press of the “Print Screen” button and off you go. If you press enter it grabs the whole screen or you can select an area. If you press Shift+PrsSc, it grabs the current window. So far, however, it does not offer a delay before seizure. However, usefully, it can record video.

Telephony and Plans

The Calls telephony application has gained new capabilities. It can display avatars, both in-call and in call history. You can add people to contacts from call history and it can manage phone number URI.

Other apps have received minor but welcome improvements. GNOME Maps supports dark mode, has icons for U-turns and turn-by-turns when giving directions, and it can handle map URLs from the browser.

The Epiphany web browser has improved hardware-accelerated scrolling, and its subsidiary PDF and Readability javascript applets are faster. the Gnome eye The image viewer now has overlaid scrollbars and smoother keyboard scrolling. The Tracker indexing tool uses 50% less memory, and the calendar applet’s year view lets you choose the month.

In terms of overall performance improvements, a new triple buffering feature hasn’t made it yet, but is expected to be in the new Ubuntu release. Double buffering for smoother rendering is well known, but triple buffering is less so: the render pipeline monitors to see if the previous frame is likely to be late, and if so, it draws the next one in another buffer. This should especially help GNOME 42 on the Raspberry Pi and on machines with Intel GPUs, where in testing rendering went from 30 fps to 60 fps.

The GNOME JavaScript engine, GJS, is now based on Spider Monkey 91, the Mozilla JavaScript runtime environment for Firefox 91 ESR. Also, input event handling is no longer limit monitor refresh rate.

Finally, GNOME 42 has improved hardware support. For years, some laptops have had electronic privacy screens. Now GNOME has Support for examples from Dell and Lenovo. The Bluetooth applet can display battery status and supports connecting and disconnecting Bluetooth LE devices.

GNOME 42 continues to incorporate the biggest changes from the GNOME 40 release cycle, but Ubuntu users will at least be using this release for a few years to come. The GNOME environment continues to both grow and become more tightly integrated, encompassing what used to be third-party functionality, such as mapping and telephony. ®


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Steven L. Nielsen